Alex Karras — the Detroit Lion who became as well known for his acting as he did for his defensive efforts on the football field — died Wednesday after suffering from kidney failure and other ailments, including dementia, heart disease and stomach cancer. He was 77.
Karras’s name resonates in different ways, depending on how one first encountered his many talents. To some, he will forever be one-quarter of the Lions’ “Fearsome Foursome” defensive line from the 1960s. To others, he’s most notable for punching a horse as the intimidating Mongo in “Blazing Saddles.” And to children of the ‘80s, he will always be the burly, soft-hearted dad of Emmanuel Lewis’s “Webster.”
While “Blazing Saddles” and “Webster” are the most commonly remembered credits on his resume, Karras also popped up in many other roles during his nearly 30 years on screens big and small. Here's a look at his career via video clips.
Let’s begin, appropriately, with Karras’s entrance as Mongo in Mel Brooks’s “Blazing Saddles.” Warning: this clip contains some NSFW language and John Hillerman acting really pretentious.
For some reason, Karras tussled with a female wrestler known as Lola Kiss on a 1975 episode of “Match Game.” This probably did not further his career, but his shirt and glasses are spectacular. Also — and this goes without saying — so is Charles Nelson Reilly.
This clip from a 1976 New England Patriots/New York Jets match-up on “Monday Night Football” is worth watching because it features a reference to the Baltimore Colts, Howard Cosell doing his yakkity-yak Cosell thing and some truly impressive graphics during the intro. But the real highlight happens at the 3:37 mark, when Karras — who was a “Monday Night Football” announcer in the mid-1970s — sings a rah-rah song written by then-Jets coach Lou Holtz.
Using his atheltic build to his advantage, Karras starred as a wrestler in the TV movie “Mad Bull.”
He starred opposite Julie Andrews and James Garner in 1982’s “Victor/Victoria”; unfortunately, only very brief glimpses of his performance can be seen in the trailer.
In 1984, he played a football trainer who points a gun at Jeff Bridges in “Against All Odds.” He can be seen briefly, at the :41-mark, in the trailer.
Here’s Karras in 1985, singing the praises of TV Guide.
He also heartily endorsed Hasbro’s Transformers toys: “If you want one for your kids this Christmas, go now while the stores have a good selection.” That’s solid advice, in 1985 and in 2012.
And of course, there was “Webster,” the sitcom on which he famously starred opposite the squeezably adorable Emmanuel Lewis and his real-life second wife, Susan Clark, to whom he had been married for 30 years when he died. While Karras continued working as an actor post- “Webster,” his role as a softie of a sitcom father may be the one for which he is always known best.